I’ve seen enough florescant-tinged signs over the past few weeks, announcing the imminent arrival of Howie Mandel, that news of the comedian’s scheduled appearance had been seared into my brain. So effective were the highlighter-colored posters, reading “HOWIE IS COMING,” my subconscious had begun to anticipate the return of the Messiah. All I knew was that I didn’t know who this “Howie” character was, but he was coming, and he must be a big freaking deal, because not even Obama advertises with neon paper.
The show was organized as a part of the university’s First Year Parents’ Weekend and, consequently, Barton Hall was primarily filled with prideful mommies and daddies who came to follow their brand-new Cornellians around for a few days. Even so, the auditorium was emptier than I’ve seen it for previous comedy events — most of the audience was seated in those special red chairs on the floor, the rest of us were herded to the “general admission” side-bleachers. V.I.P. for all the newbie parents, nosebleed for the rest of us. I’ll have you know, though, that from my perch up above, I had quite the view of Howie’s very shiny, round, bald head.
You. Should. Be. Jealous.
From the show’s beginning at 7:03 p.m. until 7:15 pm exactly — yes, I timed it — Mandel was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he made the outstanding effort to induce insanity in the audience by playing a looped version of “Oh, Happy Day” (not the gospel version). He confessed later during the show that watching our reactions as the tape looped, rewound and started again was absolutely hilarious. You gotta love it when comedians torture the audience for their own amusement; musical harassment is exactly what we paid for.
The opening act, John Mendoza, followed “Oh, Happy Day” by commenting that, “You think you’re pissed?! I gotta see this shit every night!” Mendoza was unexpected but pleasantly amusing and the audience received him well. He picked on audience members minimally, mostly on a student who mentioned he was in “CALS,” to which Mendoza quipped: “COWS?! You’re studying agriculture and you live in Manhattan?” But it turned out that no major was sacred on Friday night. In the hot seat, especially, were Hotelies and Aggies alike.
And then came the main act. I was relieved to find that Mandel’s humor was sophisticated enough that it did not have to rely on vulgar topics and dirty language as a crutch. (Bob Saget? What?) The most graphic topic was an anecdote about Mandel’s experiences at the doctor’s office. Wiggling his finger in the air, he inquired over and over with medically affiliated audience members, asking why it was necessary that his doctor put a finger in his butt.
Given my friends’ reports on Howie before the concert, I had anticipated the comedian’s humor to be as lacking as the hair on his head. Thankfully, he is much more entertaining in person than he is as a pseudo-bank associate on Deal Or No Deal. During that show, I tend to find myself distracted — imagining what kind of neat, squeaky sounds I could make by polishing Mandel’s head — rather than actually intrigued by the ludicrous concept of the show.
Two things impressed me most: His ability to improvise, and the fact that he did not rely on the F-bomb to boost his funny points (I can count the amount of times he dropped an “F” on one hand).
And there were many great moments. Making use of an enormous moth that kept circling the stage, Howie commented, “I brought a trained moth tonight. It left, but it’s going to come back and do three spectacular things!” Later on, when he picked on a resident Ithacan for his pet parrot, he inquired: “Do you live alone? No? You say no because you have a bird? Don’t worry, I’m not making fun of you … I have a moth!”Mandel was extremely successful at weaving punch lines throughout the show, which demonstrated an impressive organization of thought and awareness of timing.
The sign-language interpreters also fell victim to Mandel’s improv; both he and Mendoza were clearly fascinated by the gesture interpretation of their ridiculous verbal comedy. Mandel tested the interpreters’ vulgar translational abilities on several occasions. And when the interpreters switched at one point in the show, Mandel didn’t miss a beat — watching them intently, he dropped his current riff and said stoically: “And then a chicken put a Eucalyptus plant in its ass.”
It is true that a good portion of Mandel’s humor relied on butt jokes as a focal point, but it seemed tame enough that even the anally fearful could laugh without feeling the need to seek immediate refuge from awkwardness under the bleachers. Howie graced Barton Hall on Friday night with a gloriously shiny noggin, well-organized comedy and a few pieces of solid wisdom for the Cornell community. I leave you with one such maxim: “If you want to get more space in a crowded elevator, start smelling your finger for no reason at all.” And we are now all the wiser.